It began in the 1950’s, when a foreign tune called “The Happy Wanderer ” won the road march in Trinidad.
Instead of using the opportunity to inspire our artists to work harder at being competitive, in response we banned foreign competition for the Road March.
Over the years , whenever our artists were challenged by foreigners , we found ways to limit the competition.
While this was done with the best of intentions , it is my belief that limiting foreign competition has not helped the growth of our artists , especially in our own native genres.
Consider , for instance a similar situation in academics or athletics.
Limiting our athletes and students only to local competition would never have been considered , especially since we take pride in the accomplishments of our students and athletes on the international scene.
The point is we make it so easy for our artists.
We do not want them to compete with foreigners.
The foreign road march that started it all. Silvertones Steel Orchestra (of Port of Spain) and the road March of 1955 , The Happy Wanderer ( Valderee Valdarah)
As a matter of fact . as we limit the choices of music that bands can play, we do not even want them to compete with our own past greats!
And then , we wonder why sometimes they’re so mediocre.
This mind set , in my opinion, has also had an impact on limiting the worldwide exposure and acclaim of our panorama , currently the focal point of our steel-pan culture.
In the early days , steel-bands at carnival caught the attention of the world, playing relatively straightforward arrangements of popular hits of the day, including calypsos and pop tunes.
The music was easily understood and enjoyed by audiences, local and foreign as the sounds of the Caribbean , the joy and festivity of the Trinidad carnival.
However , in our insistence in keeping it local , we’ve tried to force-feed a genre featuring complex arrangements of unfamiliar tunes with limited musical appeal, to an international audience than cannot understand or appreciate it.
This is not meant to denigrate the modern music , there is some great party music produced locally.
But this music is not really designed to bring out the sweetness of the pan , only allowing the arranger to display the art of the pan.
Even after several decades , this formula has produced limited results , yet we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.
The definition of insanity.
if panorama is to remain the main focus of steel-bands , the value of the musical product needs to be evaluated.
Which has a better chance of advancing the art-form to wider audiences ; complex arrangements of unfamiliar , locally crafted tunes ?
Or as an alternative, opening up the judging criteria allowing arrangers to experiment with popular music of the day of all genres, making it it easier for newcomers to the art-form , especially foreign and even local youth, to understand and appreciate the music?
I honestly think , going into the future , that the latter choice is more likely to yield desirable results.
BTW, I must add that the preference for the alternative is conditional, and applies only if we’re to rely primarily on the panorama to promote the steelband art-form world wide , instead of having the panorama remain primarily a local event.